Scenes Of Heartbreak From Los Angeles


Katy Grannan’s photographs stopped me in my tracks the first time I saw them, and I’m not sure I’ve actually recovered. That unmistakable, bittersweet sunlight is all you need to know these were taken in Los Angeles.

Grannan gave a wonderful interview when this portrait series, Boulevard, was shown in San Francisco earlier this year. Those depicted are people for whom life’s promise has not been fulfilled. But Grannan doesn’t condescend to her subjects.

I definitely did not want the series to be a parade of despair, nor am I interested in smiley happy people (family photo albums are already filled with those pictures — this has always irritated me). Each one of these photographs is like a short story and part of that narrative, of course, is the part where they’re working with me to make a photograph on the spot, right after we’ve met. The dynamic is different every time, but it’s almost always a lot of fun. People really get into it, and it requires a generosity and openness to be part of this process, to dance on the sidewalk in front of traffic, to wave at strangers honking. And I love the spirit of someone like the eighty year old woman who still wears bright lipstick and eyeliner — she deserves to feel gorgeous, and she is. Or the eighty year old man that handed me his business card that read ‘International Playboy.’ These are the people I want to know better. But of course, all of our histories are complex – there is disappointment, shame, loneliness, and there’s also joy. I want all of it to exist, messily and awkwardly, in the photographs. Because that’s life.

Whenever a photographer works with subjects who may be socially vulnerable, the question of “exploitation” is always raised — depicting anyone’s pain is a fraught prospect. Grannan’s pictures seem respectful, both of her subjects and of their troubles. But to highlight that moral character is not to diminish in any way their visual complexity and depth. (Am I alone in seeing a potential reading here as a rebuke to glossy fashion imagery? Maybe I’ve just seen too many perfect bodies shot against perfect white backgrounds in Vogue.) Grannan says she tries to get her subjects to open up about their lives when they shoot:

Each one is like a story from The Dubliners or Chekhov. A few women spoke to me about having a nervous breakdown after they had kids and their husband didn’t help out, then rejected them after their breakdown. Now they’re alone; they were never able to fully recover. I see them as especially sensitive women — they’re not crazy or strange, they’re women who are vulnerable and sensitive and who live every day knowing their kids are out there somewhere, and these kids might never know that their moms did try, but it was just too much.

That’s a lot of pathos for such bright light of day. This is the Venn diagram of “heartbreaking” and “wonderful.”

Via: Boulevard [Teen Angster]

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